November 16, 2015
Did Edmonton Ward 10 Councillor Michael Walters personally give the order to waste taxpayer money to catch rabbits? That’s what residents of a quiet cul-de-sac in south Edmonton were asking after their properties were trespassed on by an Edmonton Peace Officer and two Humane Society workers. On Saturday, November 7 the Edmonton Peace Officer repeatedly stated that the councillor of the ward had phoned her manager and asked that the rabbits in the cul-de-sac be captured. Otherwise, Bylaw normally doesn’t come out to catch rabbits.
Councillor Michael Walters denied the accusation in an email on Monday, November 8. The next day the Edmonton Journal ran a front page headline “Councillors’ Pet Projects In Peril”, and reported that Coun. Michael Walters “scratched extra peace officer to deal with rouge coyotes and urban wildlife from his list.”
Did Edmonton Councillor Michael Walters order Peace Officers to catch rabbits in a south Edmonton community?
On Monday, November 9, Huffington Post reporter Terezia Farkas phoned Edmonton Bylaw, and left a detailed message on the answering machine of Sgt. Sabrina Bergin of Animal Care and Control asking her to clarify what the Peace Officer had said. Sgt. Bergin has yet to reply.
Ms. Farkas also phoned Keith Scott, City of Edmonton Coordinator Community Standards Peace Officer Section and left the same message. Ms. Farkas received an email from Coun. Michael Walters denying any personal involvement. That evening, Ms. Farkas got a phone call from Mike Vivian, Executive Assistant of Coun. Michael Walters. Mike Vivian explained that because Coun. Walters was busy with the city budget, Vivian would be handling the file.
The cordial conversation with Mike Vivian focused on two points. The first was did Coun. Walters have any personal conversation with Bylaw about catching rabbits. Mike Vivian emphatically stated no and explained it’s not policy for a councillor to directly interfere with any Bylaw investigation. Coun. Walters simply forwarded two complaints his office had received about rabbits to Bylaw and asked Bylaw to look into the matter. The second point was the cost to the taxpayer for the rabbit hunt. Mike Vivian did not know how the cost or salary of a Peace Officer.
On Wednesday, November 11, Ms. Farkas got a phone call from Keith Scott, Coordinator of the Peace Officer Section. Keith Scott verified that legally a Peace Officer is only allowed to walk up on the sidewalk to a house’s front door to speak with the resident. Peace Officers aren’t allowed to step on the property, or trespass on the front yard or enter the back yard unless the resident has given permission. So what the Peace Officer had done on that Saturday was illegal.
Coun. Michael Walters Did Not Personally Order Rabbit Chase
Keith Scott confirmed three complaints in the area were forwarded to him two ways. The first was initially by email from Coun. Michael Walter’s office. This is common practice among Edmonton councillors to forward their constituents complaints to appropriate city departments. The second contact occurred via a few phone calls. Anne, an Executive Assistant of Michael Walters, forwarded an initial complaint then Mike Vivian, the second Executive Assistant of Michael Walters phoned a few times about the file’s progress. Technically Michael Walters was in touch via email and telephone through his Executive Assistants. But Michael Walters never personally phoned or emailed Keith Scott or asked for any special favour. This corroborates Michael Walters’ email in which he states he never “instigated and facilitated the removal of rabbits.”
Keith Scott decided to work with the Edmonton Humane Society and make it a joint initiative to capture and re-home as many rabbits as possible. Keith Scott indicated to the Mayor’s office and Mike Vivian what their progress had been and the approach going forward. Going forward, Keith Scott suggested a compromise. Remove some rabbits to lower the population and leave some behind as realistically it is expensive and difficult to capture rabbits. Keith Scott is offering an independent group "Mediation & Restorative Justice Committee" to set up a mediation session to talk about the issues and see if the community can agree to a reasonable solution.
Cost of Bylaw Peace Officer
The salary of an Edmonton Animal Control Peace Officer is $34.80/hour (CAD). As a City of Edmonton employee, Peace Officers are paid hourly, regardless of the type of work done in that hour. For this particular case, it takes half an hour to drive to the neighbourhood. Time spent chasing rabbits varies. Paperwork and phone calls made on the issue also varies. So even if residents only see the Peace Officer for one hour, there’s extra time spent in the office or in the field. It all adds up. Just 10 hours spent on the file will cost taxpayers $348 CAD.
The good news is that Edmonton Coun. Michael Walters did not unduly influence Peace Officers to go out and capture rabbits.
But are Edmonton taxpayers okay with the City spending taxpayer money to catch rabbits? Or should homeowners who don't like rabbits be responsible for catching rabbits that trespass on their property? After all, Bylaw doesn't go chasing after every cat it gets a complaint about but leaves it up to the individual homeowner to catch the feline. This is a question that hangs in the air as the City of Edmonton decides how much to raise taxes this year.
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